American Fork requires wider roads for fire access

AMERICAN FORK -- Fire trucks come in standard sizes and, for that reason, the streets they travel on should also be of standard widths. That's the belief of American Fork Fire Chief Kriss Garcia, which has prompted the city to change its standard for the size of private streets.

"We have to get there to be able to provide service," he said. "I don't have 'private' fire protection. I have to be able to get our large apparatus and our ambulance down any street."

He cited a trailer fire last winter.

"The first arriving crew could not make access to the trailer park because of vehicles and snow," he said.

Fire doubles in size about every 80 seconds, he said. The delay was about three minutes, so when they were able to start, the fire was about three times what it was when they arrived.

"They get big very, very fast," he said. The back side of the trailer and all the belongings inside were lost, he said. The fire began on the porch.

The issue has come to light with a request for development in a planned community on American Fork's southeast side, which included proposed 20-foot road widths.

Garcia said that was the narrowest he would consider and even then they should be secondary roads, with another, wider way to get to residences.

"Twenty-foot streets are like an absolute minimum," he said. "We have to have one fire apparatus set up and another one be able to pass by it and get through."

He said that most cities could set standards they want to have the protection they desire. The International Fire Code indicates 20 feet as the narrowest allowed, but American Fork has opted for a wider requirement. Even the 20-foot width can be, and has been, interpreted differently by different communities. Some may include the curb and gutter in that width; others count only the pavement.

Other things that affect the access of emergency personnel and equipment to a scene are vehicles parked on a roadway, garbage pickup and snow. Even with No Parking signs, there can be problems, he said.

"My history in the last 30 years shows that if there is a street with No Parking signs in the residential area, it is not enforced or followed," he said. "Police departments as a whole aren't usually very excited about doing parking enforcement. We can predict that we are going to have vehicles parked in the way."

There have been some developments built in American Fork with the narrower streets, but when Garcia took over as fire chief, he encouraged the community to adopt a wider standard.

After the engineers worked through the plans, the planning and zoning commission reviewed them and the city council adopted the new requirements on Nov. 23, 2010. Since then private roads need to have 24 feet of asphalt. If there is a fire hydrant or the homes are taller than 30 feet, there needs to be 26 feet of pavement. If on-street parking is allowed on one side of the street, it needs to have 32 feet of asphalt.

"My goal in this whole process was to make a section that was workable for the fire department and safe for people to get in and out of their developments," Spencer said. "These are in excess of the widths allowed by the International Fire Code, at the request of the fire department. They felt that was best in many of the private developments."

Garcia agreed.

"The reason we have an ordinance that's greater than the IFC is that we have demonstrated practices that people don't follow red curbs and parking signs," he said.

Garcia told why developers like to use private streets.

"People will call a street private probably more to decrease the cost of that street so that it doesn't have to be constructed to public standards."

"Long after the developer has come and gone, the city has to provide service," Garcia said. "Those people deserve the same thing that everybody else has."